Balikpapan-class landing craft heavy
HMAS Balikpapan in 2011
|Builders:||Walkers Limited at Maryborough, Queensland|
|Operators:||Royal Australian Navy
Papua New Guinea Defence Force
|Preceded by:||LSM-1 class landing ship medium|
|Active:||3 RAN, 2 PNGDF|
|Type:||Landing Craft Heavy|
|Displacement:||316 tons standard
503 tons full load
|Length:||44.5 m (146 ft)|
|Beam:||10.1 m (33 ft)|
|Draught:||1.9 m (6 ft 3 in)|
|Propulsion:||2 x GM Detroit 6V71 diesel engines|
|Speed:||9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph)|
|Range:||3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) unladen
1,300 nautical miles (2,400 km; 1,500 mi) with 175 tons of cargo
|Capacity:||180 tons of cargo|
|Sperry Marine Bridgemaster-E X-band navigational radar|
|Armament:||two 7.62 mm (0.300 in) machine guns|
The Balikpapan class LCH (Landing Craft, Heavy) are a class of eight vessels operated by the Australian Defence Force and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF). They were initially built for the Australian Army, but operational responsibility was transferred from the Army to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during 1973 and 1974. As of 2012, five vessels were operational: three with the RAN, and two with the PNGDF following their transfer in 1974.
Design and capabilities
Eight new heavy landing craft were ordered in 1969 as a locally-manufactured replacement for the Australian Army's four LSM-1 class landing ship medium and two ALC 50 landing craft after the Landing Ship Medium Mk II project was cancelled. They are 44.5 metres (146 ft) long, with a beam of 10.1 metres (33 ft), and a draught of 1.9 metres (6 ft 3 in). The landing craft have a standard displacement of 316 tons, with a full load displacement of 503 tons. They are propelled by two G.M. Detroit 6–71 diesel motors, providing 675 brake horsepower to the two propeller shafts, allowing the vessels to reach 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph). The standard ship's company is 13-strong. The Balikpapans were originally equipped with a Decca RM 916 navigational radar, which was later replaced with a Bridgemaster-E X-band radar, They are fitted with two 7.62 millimetres (0.300 in) machine guns for self-defence.
The LCHs have a maximum payload of 180 tons; equivalent to 3 Leopard 1 or 2 M1A1 Abrams tanks, 13 M113 armored personnel carriers, 23 quarter-tonne trucks, or 4 LARC-V amphibious cargo vehicles. As a troop transport, a Balikpapan class vessel can transport up to 400 soldiers between a larger amphibious ship and the shore, or embark 60 soldiers in six-berth caravans for longer voyages. The vessel's payload affects the range: at 175 tons of cargo, each vessel has a range of 1,300 nautical miles (2,400 km; 1,500 mi), which increases to 2,280 nautical miles (4,220 km; 2,620 mi) with a 150-ton payload, and 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) when unladen. The flat, box-like keel causes the ships to roll considerably in other-than-calm conditions, limiting their ability to make long voyages. The LCHs can mate their bow ramp to the stern loading dock of the RAN's large amphibious warfare ships when operating in the ship-to-shore role.
All eight Balikpapan class vessels were constructed by Walkers Limited at their shipyard in Maryborough, Queensland. All were laid down during 1971 and 1972, with lead ship Balikpapan entering service with the Australian Army Water Transport Squadron at the end of 1971. After this, responsibility for seagoing Army craft was transferred to the RAN, with the other seven craft directly entering naval service during 1973 and 1974, and Balikpapan transferring over in late 1974.
In November 1974, Salamaua and Buna were transferred to the fledgling Papua New Guinea Defence Force, along with five Attack class patrol boats. Five of the remaining Australian LCHs were deployed in December 1974 following Cyclone Tracy as part of Operation Navy Help Darwin; HMAS Labuan was undergoing refits at the time.
HMAS Labuan was assigned to the Royal Australian Navy Reserve in June 1979, and attached to the Brisbane Port Division. Three LCHs, Tarakan, Balikpapan, and Wewak were placed in reserve at NQEA in Cairns during August and September 1985. They were reactivated in 1988, 1990, and 2000, respectively.
On entering service, Brunei and Betano initially supplemented the inshore hydrographic survey capabilities of the RAN until late 1988, when they were reassigned to the naval base HMAS Waterhen for use in diver training.
During May and June 1984, Balikpapan completed a 5,400-nautical-mile (10,000 km; 6,200 mi) transit from Brisbane to Penang, transporting vehicles, equipment, and personnel to RAAF Butterworth; the longest ocean voyage undertaken by a vessel of this class.
During 1985 and 1986, Salamaua and Buna underwent refits.
Between 1997 and 2003, the LCHs were used to support the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) in Bougainville, under Operation Bel Isi. Ships deployed on this operation were involved in resupplying the PMG base in Loloho, transport of PMG personnel and humanitarian aid, and coastal patrols. From 1999 onwards, the Balikpapans were also tasked with supporting INTERFET operations in East Timor, particularly those relating to the Oecussi enclave. The increase in operational tempo was a major factor in the reactivation of Wewak in 2000. In 2003, the landing craft began supporting RAMSI operations in the Solomon Islands.
As of 2013, three Australian vessels are active; two based at HMAS Cairns in Cairns, Queensland, with the other at HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin, Northern Territory. The two PNG vessels were still operational as of 2012.
Decommissioning and fates
On 11 December 2012, Wewak was decommissioned. Balikpapan and Betano were both decommissioned a day later, on 12 December. The other three Australian vessels will decommission during 2014, with the entire class to be replaced by an as-yet-unidentified class of six heavy landing craft. The original replacement project was not due to decide on the design until between 2016 and 2018, with the new class to enter service from 2022. The Department of Defence issued a request for information in early 2011, which may lead to the project being brought forward.
- Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, pgs 79, 125
- Wertheim (ed.), The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, p. 26
- Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, p. 79
- Wertheim (ed.), The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, p. 25
- Gillett, Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946, p. 80
- Frame, No Pleasure Cruise, p. 261
- Swinden, Heavy Lifting for Four Decades, p. 22
- Wertheim (ed.), The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, p. 536
- Swinden, Heavy Lifting for Four Decades, p. 23
- "HMAS Wewak decommissioned". Department of Defence. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
- "HMA Ships Balikpapan and Betano decommissioned". Royal Australian Navy. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- "HMAS Balikpapan". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- "HMAS Betano". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- Berry, Paul (6 December 2012). "End of the line". Navy News (Directorate of Defence News). p. 4.
- Frame, Tom (2004). No Pleasure Cruise: the story of the Royal Australian Navy. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-233-4.
- Gillett, Ross (1988). Australian and New Zealand Warships since 1946. Brookvale, NSW: Child & Associates. ISBN 0-86777-219-0. OCLC 23470364.
- Gillett, Ross (2012). Australia's Navy: Today and Tomorrow. Part 2. Topmill.
- Wertheim, Eric, ed. (2007). The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Systems (15th ed.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-59114-955-2. OCLC 140283156.
- Journal articles
- Swinden, Greg (April 2013). "Heavy Lifting for Four Decades: The Navy's Landing Craft Heavy". The Navy (Navy League of Australia) 75 (2): 20–24. ISSN 1322-6231.
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- Balikpapan Class Heavy Landing Craft (LCH), Australia